Review Summary: From The Word Go is every bit the record it threatened to be: a challenging but accessible rap triumph.
Proverb says it’s better to build a solid foundation first and make aesthetic changes later, and that’s exactly what Dublin hip hop duo Messiah J & The Expert achieved with Now This I Have To Hear
, their second record, in 2006. Now This I Have To Hear
was a great record in its own right; not only did it showcase a wide range of musical influences from east coast rap to alt. rock and funky soul, the album set the group apart as a unique commodity in arguably the fastest-moving genre in music, their sombre tones and genre-bending aesthetic becoming instantly identifiable to all but the most detached listener. Yet Now This I Have To Hear
was always meant to be the basic building blocks of the MJEX sound, and it’s with From The Word Go
that the group have emerged as a genuinely world-class act, making subtle additions and improvements upon their earlier style while maintaining its essential character. Evolution, not revolution, is the order of the day, and rarely has science sounded so interesting.
From the word go, literally, the album exudes a more self-confident tone than its predecessor. Tempo-wise, it’s much more upbeat and aggressive, from the furious four-to-the-floor beat of ‘Jean Is Planning An Escape’ to the tongue-twisting rhymes of ‘Panic Station’ and vitriolic opener ‘Year Of The Genie.’ ‘Jean Is Planning An Escape’ is the heaviest track on the record in more ways than one; thumping bass and pulsating synth melody in tow, Messiah J explores the delicate issue of domestic abuse with compassion and intelligence, noting that “all her friends say ‘go, Jean, go,’”
but in the end only she can choose to end the cycle of abuse: ”Jean is coming to her own conclusion.”
‘Tomorrow Is Too Late’ provides the clearest link to Now This I Have To Hear
- in fact, the gloomy, acoustic track could very well be an outtake from that album- a straightforward narrative of a nervy encounter with a homeless man that turns into a thought-provoking call to activism and awareness.
Long-term collaborators Leda Egri (she of ‘Something Outta Nothing’ fame) and Joanne Daly (who lent sultry vocals to ‘Bone Collector’) are on hand to help give birth to two of the album’s two clear highlights: ‘Turn The Magic On’ and ‘Amnesia Comes Easily.’ ‘‘Turn The Magic’ is unconsciously very reminiscent of the Cure, matching a classic clipped-funk guitar sequence in the style of the Meters with breezy synthesised strings and emphatic trumpets. Lyrically, it ties together the album’s dominant themes, friendship and commitment, with the lines: “we turn the magic on / though we never really get together, I remember when we get together.”
Another highlight, ‘Geography,’ which features Kieran and Ro of indie rockers Delorentos on lead chorus vocals, takes on the long distance angle with less optimism, noting: ”we can't compete with borders, mountains and dangerous waters, oceans and shores / we can't afford long-haulers, spatial restraining orders, long distance calls, [Geography is] greater than anything you feel.”
Evidence of the pair’s improved telekinetic connection is evident on tracks like ‘Panic Station,’ where the early feeling is all ‘60s psychedelia with fluttering synths and furious chord stabs, but soon it reverts to a fiercely melodic two-tone ska riff. ‘Looking For A Long Term Thing’ is no less ambitious in its effort to blend the unblendable, delicately interweaving passages of ‘Born Slippy’-style trance keyboards with a crunchy psychedelic proto-metal bassline, while ‘Geography’ finds the middle ground between Bond theme and drum n’ bass club banger by way of a scrambled string section reminiscent of Britney Spears’ evergreen classic ‘Toxic.’
Whereas in the past Messiah J has been most comfortable as the dispassionate storyteller, here he writes primarily in the first-person, and his lyrics cut that bit deeper as a result. On ‘Looking For A Long Term Thing,’ he delivers a stinging rebuke to people who can’t or won’t keep their promises, ”don’t make a five-year plan if you’re going to do two / Don’t give your wife your hand if you’re going to screw whoever you like.”
On ‘Year Of The Genie,’ he vents his frustration at the posturing of that universal evil- the politician- enquiring, ”is it a scam folks? A damn hoax? We're waiting / Because they seem to be aping the ones they think need replacing.”
Similarly, lead single ‘Megaphone Man’ explores the futility of the political system from the other side, inventing the title’s character to say all the things he wishes he had the courage or the knowledge, or both, to say out loud and proud. All in all, Messiah J has trimmed the fat from his songwriting; he writes less, and repeats himself more, but now each line is as indispensible as the last- surely the mark of a special one, no?
From The Word Go
is every bit the record it threatened to be: challenging yet accessible; diverse yet coherent; serious yet playful; pop but not pop. More than that, it’s as thoughtful and intricate an album as has been released in 2008 and one that is bound to win the band many admirers at home and abroad, upon its UK release in January.